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Exclusive report: 3D printing trends to watch in 2020

Alissa Demorest

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Exclusive report: 3D printing trends to watch in 2020

MMB's 3D printed anodized metal "feathers"

© © Nicolas Rodet

There seems no end in sight in the fast-paced development of 3D printing technologies. A new report* published by trade show 3DPrint Lyon (an Infopro Digital event) outlines emerging trends in the sector in France. While luxury remains a tiny piece of the pie, the industry is monitoring what 3D printing can bring to the table.

The recently published study reports on 3D printing trends in France in the context of what has become a burgeoning global market; it broke the $10bn barrier in 2019 and continues to register annual growth upwards of 15%. The rising number of 3D printer manufacturers is also testimony to the market’s buoyant health: between 2015 and 2020 their number more than doubled to reach 520, with close to 2,000 printer models available today.

Despite these impressive numbers, 3D printing currently accounts for only 0.1% of global industrial production, says the report, highlighting its “immense potential” in the years to come. “3D printing has become a must-have technology to improve companies’ competitiveness and bring production closer to the client. However, cost remains a major obstacle to the expansion of the technology, especially when it comes to (printing) materials”.

The report highlights four major trends that characterize the market in 2020.

  • Large-formats printers are on the rise, allowing engineers and designers to print large-scale prototypes in a single operation. This means that they don’t need to print and then assemble several pieces. Alternately several objects can be printed at once.  
     
  • Metal 3D printing is taking off for prototypes and custom components and traditional manufacturers are now facing stiff competition from startups as well as tech giants, such as HP and Xerox. The price of the printer itself remains an issue as do maintenance and energy costs. Printed pieces also require additional finishing techniques, making the process more lengthy and costly.
  • Printers that can work with high-performance thermoplastics, such as PEEK and ULTEM are increasingly in demand. While these lighter-weight materials are more resistant to chemicals and high temperatures than thermoplastics, such as PLA or ABS for example, they are also more costly.
     
  • The printing of composite materials is gaining ground. Carbon fiber added to a range of thermoplastics makes them more lightweight and resistant. These materials are giving metal alternatives new competition.

Aerospace, automobile, orthodontics, tooling and production systems remain the most active sectors in 3D printing, utilizing the technology not just for mockups and prototypes, but increasingly for industrial-scale production.

While the luxury segment is making timid inroads in the 3D printing market (as recent initiatives from Chanel among others attest), much of this activity remains for limited editions and short production runs. As is typical of the luxury market, brands are approaching the technology with its traditional aversion to risk. Yet given the speed of innovation in 3D printing, some might well fast-track their developments in the sector. Watch this space.

* These trends were sourced from a three-part report in French, 2020 État des lieux du marché de l’impression 3D en France by Aniwaa, 3DPrint and kxiop. To read the report, click here.

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